French Intelligence Targets Taqiyya Followers

Headquarters of the Direction centrale du renseignement intérieur (DCRI). Photo: Mouloud47 for Wikimedia Commons

Headquarters of the Direction centrale du renseignement intérieur (DCRI). Photo: Mouloud47 for Wikimedia Commons

One year after the death of the Toulouse gunman Mohammed Merah, French counterterrorism experts are investigating the use of “taqiyya,” or the practice of deceiving society by concealing one’s faith, among Jihadists. Those who practice this technique of dissimulation engage in actions that contradict their beliefs, or deny their faith entirely. The goal is to lay low or blend in, in order to avoid the risk of persecution if they feel threatened.

“Concealment is a technique as old as the world… an essential component of any war strategy,” explains Marc Trévidic, French anti-terrorism judge, in an interview with France 24. Taqiyya in Islam dates back to the 7th century, when a schism between the followers of the prophet’s son-in-law, Ali, and the Sunni caliphate brought about the persecution of the Shiite minority.

Counterterrorism experts recovered the term when men trained and radicalized in Afghan terror camps began practicing taqiyya as a way to disguise themselves and integrate into Western societies. Trévidic says that today, taqiyya has actually become a more radicalized version of concealment because extremists have found justification for their actions within the Koran.

According to Jill Hallgren, Managing Editor of TheRiskyShift.com, this religious justification is controversial, as it is more likely to be accepted by new converts and is generally rejected by traditionalists.

French intelligence agencies have known of the shift toward the radicalization of taqiyya since the mid-1990s. “After their passage through the jihadist training camps in Afghanistan, the recruits were sent home and directed to make a show of their ordinary, integrated lives – sometimes even masquerading as unbelievers,” said Trévidic.

One challenge for the DCRI– Direction centrale du renseignement intérieur, the French domestic intelligence agency– is the assessment of the threat level posed by the followers of taqiyya. For example, in the case of Merah, the French secret service agencies were well aware of his practice as well as his threat to French society.

While the authorities were aware of Merah’s trips to Pakistan and association with Salafist groups in Toulouse, they failed to distinguish between a low-level delinquent and a potentially dangerous Islamist militant.

According to France 24, taqiyya followers are strengthened by the inability of the DCRI to identify radicalized youth, especially in the impoverished, immigrant-dominated suburbs, or banlieues. Behaving like local gangsters or engaging in minor acts of delinquency allows them to escape the counterterrorism radar.

Hallgren states that for this reason, it is important for France to work toward integrating these isolated communities back into mainstream society. However, fundamental problems, including the isolation of minority cultures, prevent the DCRI from finding a simple solution for responding to the threat of taqiyya followers.

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